Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Rita's Lounge
Libertyville, IL
847-362-0157

Review by Diana & Mama

This place is east of I-94, just past Libertyville Lanes on Route 176, which means there was likely once a bunch of houses here until the highways were built mid-last-century. In their curious manner, rather than just buying up the whole neighborhood, the government decided which houses they'd have to bulldoze and bought up those. The remainder stayed where they were, and thus ended up family homes under overpasses and between on-ramps all over this country. Rita's Lounge appears to be one of those left-behind houses. It's an eatery and bar, but it doesn't take any imagination to see that it's a house, complete with knick knacks and stuff like "kimonos of the world" collector's plates on the kitchen soffit. Some of the walls have been knocked down to make some room, and a bar was installed where pop's Barcalounger must've been next to the old Philco ... you get the idea ...

"Rita" is an elderly waitress with a smoke-affected gravelly voice who looks like she came free with the house. Or we think that's her name ... everyone from around here simply calls this place "Rita's" -- we think it's sometimes referred to as "Rita's Lounge," but mainly it's a little house jammed with old mismatched tables and chairs and a bar, and they serve food and drinks.

We were there on a Friday, and in parts of the Midwest, there is a Catholic-inspired tradition of fried fish on Fridays, all you can eat. It's called, appropriately, "Friday Night Fish Fry," though we were there for lunch. The fish of choice in this part of Illinois is lake perch -- tiny fillets the dimensions of a skinny finger. They bread it and fry it and serve it like french fries, and usually with french fried, too. It's crispy, bland, pale -- perfect for pre-Vatican II requirements -- and served with tartar sauce, lemon wedges and a sprig of parsley. The dishes are melamine, you get a glass of iced tea or coke, and Rita checks your plate and brings out more tiny white perch a paper tray. "It's all you can eat, eat up!" she orders.

I wish I loved this place, but as Calvin Trillin pointed out, it's possible to be blinded by the "quaintness factor," where a rather non-descript or even bad meal is overlooked and overestimated for the quaint old woman serving or cooking the meal in a huge copper vat over a wood-burning flame out back of somesuch. I'm afraid this is such a case. Plus I looked at the tiny fillets and wondered about the person who filleted these tiny fish, and then about the millions of tiny fish giving their bodies to nourish the souls of pre-Vatican II Catholics all over the Great Lakes region. Like Chinese sharkfin, it seems that 1) if these things are endangered, and 2) if the reason for eating the things no longer exists in any reality, and 3) they don't taste like anything anyway ... then stop it! Serve something else!

My eating companion got a burger and said it was good, but I'm afraid I don't often take eating advice from her. She is the mother of many daughters and relishes meals made for her regardless. She's a very satisfying guest -- she loves anything you put in front of her to eat, and she honestly enjoys it.

Why go to Rita's? Because it's quaint. Heck, there are worse reasons to go places, don't you think? And it's cheap. And it's Americana.


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